Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne Achieves Key Test Milestones

LauncherOne. Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic announced Sept. 28 that it has made “significant progress” on the engines that it will use on its LauncherOne small satellite launch vehicle, two weeks after the company said it was increasing the vehicle’s performance. The company showed off the test-firing of its latest rocket engine, NewtonThree, in a video captured on Sept. 25 at its Mojave, California, facility. The engine is meant to be the main stage for LauncherOne, a platform for sending small satellites into orbit, putting it in competition with the likes of SpaceX's larger Falcon 9.

The test reached steady-state operation and allowed the team to capture high quality data about the engine during start-up, operation, and safe shutdown. It occurred the same week as multiple full duration firings of the gas generator for LauncherOne’s upper stage engine, each exceeding six minutes in duration.

LauncherOne’s orbital flights are achieved using two rocket engines: a single 73,500 lbf thrust ‘NewtonThree’ main stage engine, and a single 5,000 lbf thrust ‘NewtonFour’ upper stage engine. Both the NewtonThree and the NewtonFour are highly reliable, pump-fed LOX/RP-1 liquid rocket engines designed, tested, and built by Virgin Galactic.

"Previously, we had completed successful test campaigns on pressure-fed demonstrator engines in each thrust class—the ‘NewtonOne’ and ‘NewtonTwo’ engines. These are now retired. There is much work yet to be done but we are excited to share the news about such encouraging test results along the road to space," Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

The engine tests come after Virgin Galactic announced Sept. 14 that it was increasing the payload capability of LauncherOne. When first introduced in 2012, the company said the vehicle could launch payloads of up to 225 kilograms into orbit. With the upgrade, the vehicle will be able to place more than 400 kilograms into a generic low Earth orbit, and 200 kilograms into the sun-synchronous orbit commonly used by remote sensing satellites.

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